Breathwork in the Classroom

Ah, the back-to-school season is upon us! The time when youngsters all over the country are stepping into classrooms with new hopes and fresh excitement. Whether they’re diving into traditional classrooms, embracing innovative educational models, or tackling homeschooling adventures, one thing’s for sure: these places are where young minds flourish.

But you know what’s even more awesome? These school years are a golden opportunity for kids to grasp practices that can shape their health and happiness for life. Starting them young with healthy habits is like giving them a superpower against the struggle of unlearning bad habits later on. And that’s where the magic of Breathwork comes in.

Unpacking “Take a Deep Breath”

Throughout my teaching journey, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard and seen the phrase “Take a Deep Breath.” It’s on classroom walls, it’s the go-to phrase for calming down a rowdy bunch, and it’s plastered on emotion-regulation posters. You’ll find it in all sorts of resources aimed at school kids – from award-winning guides to homegrown techniques.

However, here’s the catch: without truly understanding the mechanics of breathing, these breath techniques might not be reaching their full potential in helping students regulate their emotions. This often results in kids seeking quick fixes from external sources. 

Think treats, fidget toys, and gadgets. These solutions might seem handy, but they can easily turn into crutches. I get it, finding solutions is a process, especially when certain things help kids calm down. But what happens when these external aids aren’t around? What if the iPad is out of battery? How do we help a child bounce back after a meltdown with limited resources?

Breathing: The Underestimated Superpower

So, how can we teach kids to look inward for calm when their emotions are in a whirlwind? What’s the long-term plan, the approach that nurtures intrinsic solutions within them?

Personally, the phrase “Take a Deep Breath” never quite resonated with me. It’s one of those sayings we hear so often that it starts to lose its meaning, and it might not even be grounded in a deep understanding of the art of breathing. Plus, let’s not forget that some kids take things very literally, which makes this phrase a tad confusing.

Teaching Kids to Cultivate Inner Calm Amidst Emotional Storms

When it comes to guiding kids toward finding their calm within the midst of emotional whirlwinds, it’s all about offering them a compass to navigate their inner world. Imagine their emotions as waves – sometimes gentle ripples, other times roaring tides. Our aim is to equip them with an anchor, a strategy that goes beyond momentary fixes and dives into the realm of intrinsic solutions. It’s about teaching them how to weather the storms from within.

Unmasking the Meaning Behind “Take a Deep Breath”

The phrase “Take a Deep Breath” has an almost clichéd quality to it. It’s akin to a well-worn path that our words often tread without much thought. It’s a bit like saying “how are you?” in passing without truly waiting for an answer. This is why, as an educator, the phrase has never quite resonated with me. It’s not that the sentiment behind it isn’t genuine – it’s more that it often lacks the depth needed to truly connect with its recipients.

When we tell kids to “take a deep breath,” we’re inadvertently handing them a simple action without the context or understanding of why it matters. Breathing isn’t just about air filling and leaving our lungs; it’s a gateway to connecting with our bodies, emotions, and minds. It’s about offering them a tool that can transform their relationship with their internal states.

Literal Interpretations and Misunderstandings

Kids are remarkable in their ability to take words quite literally. When we say “take a deep breath,” it’s almost as if we’re giving them a command to simply inhale deeply. But what if we told them to “imagine the breath flowing like a river through your nose, filling you up with calm, and then flowing out gently, carrying away worries like leaves on the water”?

The beauty of this rephrasing lies in its vividness. Suddenly, it’s not just about a deep breath; it’s about conjuring a mental image, engaging the senses, and instilling intentionality. By explaining the “why” and “how” behind the breath, we foster a deeper connection and understanding. It’s like teaching them the difference between listening to music and truly feeling the emotions it carries.

Nurturing Breath Literacy and Intrinsic Solutions

To truly nurture intrinsic solutions, we must first cultivate “breath literacy” – the ability to read, interpret, and utilize the language of breath. Imagine the breath as a palette of colors, each shade representing a different emotion or state. By teaching kids to mix these colors intentionally, they gain the power to paint their own emotional landscapes.

Instead of offering them a pre-packaged solution, we become guides in a journey of self-discovery. We encourage them to ask questions: What does my breath feel like when I’m excited? How about when I’m anxious? Can I use my breath to change the colors on my emotional palette?

This approach transcends mere techniques; it becomes a way of life. It’s a commitment to help kids understand that they carry within them the tools to navigate life’s waters. It’s showing them that while external circumstances may be beyond their control, their breath is an unwavering constant, a bridge between their inner world and the outer one.

In essence, we’re not just teaching them to “take a deep breath.” We’re gifting them the ability to take a deep dive into themselves, to explore the depths of their emotions, and to resurface with a newfound sense of empowerment. And in doing so, we’re setting them on a path toward lifelong well-being, one mindful breath at a time.

Speaking Their Language

Teaching kids about the power of breath can be simple, as long as we break it down into understandable bits. Sometimes, I feel like the strategies and charts about emotional regulation in schools are a tad more complex than they need to be. Let’s keep it straightforward and relatable for the little ones.

When we tell them to “Take a Deep Breath,” what are we really asking for? Should they breathe through their nose or mouth? Quickly or slowly? Longer inhales or exhales? Should there be a pause somewhere in there?

Without using the right language to discuss breathing, we’re basically reinforcing the idea that breathing is just a survival mechanism, not a tool for thriving. But here’s the exciting news: we can use our breath to influence our mood, energy levels, brain function, and more!

Breathing: A New Beginning in Schools

So, how can we shift this perception in schools and help kids establish solid breathing habits early on?

When it’s time for the “deep breath” moment, let’s walk the talk. Teachers, it’s your turn to become “breath-literate” and become students of your own breath. Be specific about what you want that breath to achieve and why. Here are two questions to ponder: “Where are my students emotionally right now? What vibes are they giving off?”

What do you think your students need before you tell them to take that deep breath? Are they showing signs of weariness and lack of motivation? Or are they riding the wave of excitement? Do they need an invigorating breath or a soothing one?

These two questions alone can completely change how you connect with your students and meet their needs. What changes can you make today to make breathing a potent regulator for minds, bodies, and classrooms?

Practical Tips for the Classroom:

  • Through the day, touch base on your students’ breathing. Ask if they’re breathing through their noses. Remind and demonstrate when needed.
  • Teach them to breathe deeply and gently, engaging their diaphragms. Shift from “Take a Deep Breath” to “Breathe through your nose, deep and gentle.”
  • After recess or lunch, when energy levels are high, a calming breath can work wonders. Shift from “Take a Deep Breath” to “Inhale through your nose for 2, 3 & 4, exhale through the nose for 2, 3, & 4, pause for 2, 3 & 4.”
  • Perhaps certain subjects induce anxiety. An energizing breath might be the ticket: Transform “Take a deep breath” into “Inhale through the nose for 2, 3, & 4, pause for 2, 3 & 4, exhale through the nose for 2, 3 & 4.”
  • As kids get the hang of it, up the counts. Integrate it into different moments of the day, like before an assembly.

In a Nutshell: Building Breath Superheroes

You won’t believe the power of clear instructions, especially when it involves kids at home and in the classroom. These little teaching moments are golden, and with practice, kids can become breath experts in their own right. This gives them the tools to handle their emotions and develop a strong inner core.

Be aware of your breath and its actions. Teach this to the young ones in your life. Yes, it might sound simple to “take a deep breath,” but understanding where that breath travels and what it does is monumental! Think of it like constructing a house on solid ground instead of a shaky foundation. A strong start means a stronger future. So, let’s empower our kids with mindful breathing – each breath, a breath of life.

Stay tuned for more insights on my favorite breathwork techniques for kids, both in the comfort of home and the bustling classroom.